Saturday, December 30, 2006

Know Your Moons

Not long after I first met Wayne, he gave me a framed postcard of the Names of the Full Moon, which detailed names Native Americans gave the full moon throughout the year. I just ran across the names of the full moons for 2007 online, and since I have no desire to rehash my entire 2006 now and make predictions for 2007, this seemed the best way to end this year and ring in the next. Mark your calendars and check your watches. Because I'm a Cancer, you can always tell when the full moon is just by talking to me (right, Lesley?), so if you lose dates and times, call me.


Jan. 3, 8:57 a.m. EST - The Full Wolf Moon. Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. It was also known as the Old Moon or the "Moon After Yule." In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next Moon.

Feb. 2, 12:45 a.m. EST - The Full Snow Moon. Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.

March 3, 6:17 p.m. EST - The Full Worm Moon. In this month the ground softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. A total lunar eclipse will take place on this night; the Moon will appear to rise will totally immersed (or nearly so) in the Earth's shadow over the eastern United States. The rising Moon will be emerging from the shadow over the central United States, while over the Western U.S. the eclipse will be all but over by the time the Moon rises.

April 2, 1:15 p.m. EDT - The Full Pink Moon. The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and -- among coastal tribes -- the Full Fish Moon, when the shad came upstream to spawn. This is also the Paschal Full Moon; the first full Moon of the spring season. The first Sunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday, which indeed will be observed six days later on Sunday, April 8.

May 2, 6:09 a.m. EDT - The Full Flower Moon. Flowers are abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

May 31, 9:04 p.m. EDT - The Blue Moon. The second full Moon occurring within a calendar month is usually bestowed this title.
Although the name suggests that to have two Full Moons in a single month is a rather rare occurrence (happening "just once in a . . . "), it actually occurs once about every three years on average.

June 30, 9:49 a.m. EDT - The Full Strawberry Moon. Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.

July 29, 8:48 p.m. EDT - The Full Buck Moon, when the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimes also called the Full Hay Moon.

Aug. 28, 6:35 a.m. EDT - The Full Sturgeon Moon, when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is most readily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because the moon rises looking reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon. A total lunar eclipse will coincide with moonset for the eastern United States. The Central and Mountain Time Zones will see the Moon's emergence coincide with moonset, while the western United States will see the entire eclipse.

Sept. 26, 3:45 p.m. EDT - The Full Harvest Moon. Always the full Moon occurring nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice-- the chief Indian staples--are now ready for gathering.

Oct. 26, 12:52 a.m. EDT - The Full Hunter's Moon. With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox, also other animals that have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest. The Moon will also be at perigee later this day, at 7:00 a.m., at a distance of 221,676 miles from Earth. Very high tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full Moon.

Nov. 24, 9:30 a.m. EST - The Full Beaver Moon. Time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. Also called the Frosty Moon.

Dec. 23, 2:51 a.m. EST - The Full Cold Moon; among some tribes, the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also sometimes called the "Moon before Yule" (Yule is Christmas, and this time the Moon is only just before it). The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long and the Moon is above the horizon a long time. The midwinter full Moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low sun.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Contemplation in the Dead Zone

The week between Christmas and New Year's always feels like The Dead Zone. I never understand why I am at work during this time, except for the fact that, annually, I am the guy who does not travel for the holiday and is therefore the one who gets stuck there, having forgetten to ask for time off six months ahead of time like everyone else.

Christmas this year felt odd and yet perfect. I got a great taste of holiday cheer--complete with music, tree, and presents--at Wayne's on Xmas Eve, with Lesley, Tammy, and Rebekah in attendance to continue our tradition of what I simply call "the bad present game." The object of said game is simply to wrap horrid presents as nicely as possible and then pass a die around the group and let everyone who rolls a "6" take a present; once distributed, you set a timer and then whoever rolls a "6" can steal a present from whomever they like. And even though you know it's going to be kinda sucky, you become totally fixated on presents when they are stolen from you. It's kind of evil, and therefore a lot of fun.

Christmas Day was, thankfully, 75 degrees, so I ventured to the beach and spent the day with Chrissy and two of her friends, drinking beer, wandering in the sand, and then grabbing Indian food--a nice change of pace from the usual day of staying inside and opening presents, cleaning up, and getting ready for guests. Part of me definitely misses the subtle pageantry of Christmas with Wayne, but I also was so unprepared for the holiday this year that I am glad I could let it slide by, somewhat unnoticed. I struck just the right balance between holiday and non-holiday.

But then there's that Dead Zone feeling--a week at work feeling itchy and unproductive. Evenings at home feeling lethargic and weird. James Brown died on Christmas, which seemed both a propos and utterly bizarre. Then Gerald Ford died. Then there was the two-year anniversary of the tsunami.

For some reason, though, Ford's deathmade me emotional, and I never get emotional watching presidents do anything. I think what did it, honestly, was watching all this footage of him be completely genuine, down-to-earth and obviously committed to what he was doing--which was trying to heal a country completely splintered by war and political scandal (sound familiar?). It made me even angrier about the administration we're saddled with right now, and how horribly one-dimensional Bush is--how utterly lacking in grace, wit, intelligence, and true compassion. Even more telling this evening was how all the footage of Ford that was airing on the NBC Nightly News was followed by a commerical about all the atrocities happening in Sudan and how 400,000 people have already died there without us truly intervening.

I know, it's all kind of a big downer, isn't it? And yet something seems very natural to me about reflecting on death at the end of the year. I don't say that because I'm depressed and hate New Year's Eve. I just find my thoughts often turning to people I wish had been here to witness the last 12 months, or those whom I wanted to poke me and tell me to stop taking everything so seriously. I remind myself of the blessings I have--like friends who will buy horrible $5 presents and wrap them magnificently and those who want to watch a warm sunset over the Pacific Ocean instead of cooking Christmas dinner.

The week isn't over yet, and I wonder what these last three days of 2006 will bring. I already had one night during which I got choked up watching Gerald Ford and then reviewed a Yoko Ono CD. How could it get any weirder?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Love A List

I used to be able to write my top 10 (or 5 or 20) CDs of the year piece for a magazine or two, but this year I was not asked to contribute my opinions. Granted, I didn't really lobby to be considered, either, but the POINT is simply that I love yammering about music I like. So, here are my fave CDs of 2006. Short 'n' sweet and in no particular order:

Neko Case
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Folk-country-alt rock-murder ballads all rolled into one. Simply gorgeous.

Belle and Sebastian
The Life Pursuit
Who knew they had an album this good in them 10 years on? All the classic B&S with some new bluesy riffs and sense of humor intact.

TV on the Radio
Return to Cookie Mountain
Avant-garde enough to be weird and atmospheric; interesting enough to keep you listening over and over.

Jenny Lewis
Rabbit Fur Coat
(Team Love)
Similar to Neko but with more sardonic humor. "Rise Up With Fists!" is sheer genius, and sums up L.A. perfectly.

Corrina Repp
The Absent and the Distant
(Caldo Verde)
Finally, she might get some attention. A bare, sparse, spine-tingling album that's both melancholic and invigorating. Much more so than Cat Power's Chan Marshall.

M. Ward
Wasn't a fan, really, until this dusty collection of hymns appeared. Captivating and familiar at the same time.

The Late Cord
Lights From the Wheelhouse
Technically it's a "mini-album," but still ... for anyone who misses This Mortal Coil and likes some creepy country, carnivalesque overtones... maybe it's just me....

Tanya Donelly
This Hungry Life
(Eleven Thirty)
I was not prepared to love this CD, which was recorded live two years ago. But it shows Ms. D--she of the amazing voice--getting back (thankfully) to her power-pop roots.

Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Again, was not a fan, really, before this. Epic, insular, warm, loud, ambitious. Makes one remember why terms like "alternative rock" were coined.

Hell Hath No Fury
Apocalyptic hip-hop that's both ambitious and clever--musically and lyrically... a rare commodity in the genre these days.

Jennifer O'Connor
Over the Mountain, Across the Valley, and Back to the Stars
Liz Phair became gross a while ago, but finally another indie songwriter appears who can write plain, unadorned songs that hit all the right emotional notes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Tis the Season ... to Miss Mix Tapes

When I was getting ready to fly to Australia, I had a panic attack about 48 hours ahead of time because I realized my iPod only had about 6 hours of play time, and I was set to be on a plane for over 13 hours.

Now, if you know me, you know I can be very, um, particular about my music. So, listening to what was available via the plane's headphones would simply not do. Then I remembered that I had my old Walkman, batteries, and over 50 mix tapes stashed in my closet. Some of them are only two years old--proof that I held out for quite some time before giving in to the so-called digital music "revolution."

I thought of those mix tapes tonight as I struggled to put a playlist together on iTunes for a CD I wanted to make someone for Christmas--whittling the massive list down to 20 or so tracks.

The mix tapes I still have chronicle almost every major point in my life over the last 10-15 years, from my first road trip to college, to some spectacular flameouts with ex-boyfriends (hence the "You Fucked Me Over and I Hate You For It Mix"; thank god PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me" had come out around that time), and even some of the real high points. (I made Wayne a mix tape when we first met in 1999 and though I chose the songs specifically for him, I made a copy of the tape for myself and remember listening, wondering if he would be freaked out by the fact I put a song called "A Loon" on this tape that supposedly declared my "like" of him; luckily, he wasn't.)

The last six years, in particular, are well represented by the tapes in my closet, with titles for the cases that pretty much succinctly sum it up: "Let's Go To Iceland!" (for my fall 2003 trip to Iceland, natch, complete with Bjork and Sigur Ros songs); "Post-Apocalyptic" (made after Owen died); "No Decision to Be Made" (during a period when I wanted to quit my job); "Ethereal Elixir" (all music without any discernable lyrics I listened to when I had insomnia); and "Insert Catchy Title Here" (apparently, I could not be bothered to create one).

I grabbed a few of these mixes and they made it on my flight with me. In fact, I fell asleep listening to a mix tape rather than my iPod.

On my trip to New York last week, I didn't take the mix tapes, though I kind of wanted to. I even found myself wanting to make more tapes, and realized I no longer had the ability to. I wandered Manhattan's chilly streets between work meetings, trying to re-create the effect of the tapes with playlists on my iPod, but, as you might expect, it wasn't the same. There was no hiss of tape that was slowly disintegrating, no screwed-up lapses when bits of songs would bleed into each other accidentally, no weird one-minute blank space toward the end of the list of songs where you could sneak in a snippet of someone talking or something recorded off TV.

Waiting for the subway one day last week, I remembered that the last mix tape I made in New York was for the trip Nicole and I took cross-country in August 1998. The tape--"Music to Road Trip By"--is barely functional now, but I still listened to it yesterday, laughing at some of the inclusions I made, yet impressed by my segue between "California Love" by Dr. Dre to "Levitate Me" by the Pixies.

Music is a huge part of how I remember things. I place so much emphasis on songs that entered my life at particular moments--from hearing "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper" minutes after learning my father died to bonding with Barbie over Helen Reddy's "You and Me Against the World" (yes, really). So, This evening, as I struggled to assemble playlists by dragging and dropping abstract song titles, listening over and over again to see if the songs went together and conveyed what I wanted them to, I realized just how intimate the act of giving music to others is for me. It's nice to think that I may introduce him or her to a song that will have some lasting personal effect. Not that I want the person to think of me. I just like the idea that I assembled a present and left it behind as an artifact as much as a collage of sounds.

If I hand you a CD, now you know how much I geeked out in the process of making it.

(Apologies to those who are getting something else from me for Christmas.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Middle of Nowhere--and Everything That Comes With It

If this sounds like it's being written by a befuddled, jetlagged man... well, it is.

I got back from Australia a couple of days ago and feel dazed, to say the least. I felt like I was living on the edge of the earth for 2 weeks--which, I guess is partially true, since I was literally in the middle of South Australia, hundreds of kilometers from any major city, trying to balance my job with simply being one of the people on this press trip. I am not sure it succeeded necessarily. But that's something probably best left off my blog and for another time.

There were definite highlights, though:

1. Cruising the Murray River on boats of all sorts in the stark, oddly beautiful Riverland area.

This included some threatening thunderstorms that seemed to follow us daily.

2. The Gawler Ranges.

This was a stunning landscape of rolling hills with salt lakes--as you can see from the pics I got of others on the trip and me on this insane exapnse of white, which apparently astronauts can spot very clearly from space (probably because there is NO ozone layer here)

The camp we stayed at was solar powered, collected rainwater for showers, and was run by Geoff Sholz, a guy who knew exactly what he was doing when building tents in the Bush, as the Aussies like to say. It was set among white sand and gum trees and was as silent a place I'd been in years. Just beautiful.

The camp also beckoned some kangaroos--just two of the dozens we saw.

3. The West Coast of the Eyre Peninsula, where the Indian Ocean is uninterrupted until you hit South Africa.

And the obligatory shot of me in flip flops....

4. Kangaroo Island: Beautiful beaches, koalas, and more stunning scenery. We literally got within a few feet of some koalas and wallabies. They didn't seem to care that we were there at all.

And this final shot is a view from one of the houses we stayed at for our last night on Kangaroo Island. Not too bad, eh?

Coming back to L.A. was a bit anti-climactic--going into the office to simply get ready to do a trip to New York in 3 days for another client, and really questioning, once again, what I am doing. It's been keeping me up many nights already. I suspect everyone in their 30s wrings his or her hands about what one should be doing in life. These questions of "What is my purpose?" "What am I passionate about?" "What really matters to me?" All of that has been going through my head rapidly. Having several nights on the other side of the world to think about it makes it feel more intense too. I did this last year when I wen to Melbourne and came home to realize that Wayne and I really should no longer be boyfriends if we wanted to remain in each others lives.

I am thankful I have had these opportunities to travel and have a few moments to step back to see what my life looks like. But the vision is not always as beautiful as these pictures. That's OK. Images of what you experience are one thing; how those experiences influence your decisions for the future is something else entirely.